Puerto Rican artist Angel Otero brings you a tour of his first Hong Kong gallery exhibition at Lehmann Maupin.
[transcription of the tour]
“I want to start with the title. After I did this body of work I thought about the word ‘echoes’ a lot because the departure subject of these paintings was the medium of free painting, and more specifically etchings. I collected a lot of etchings by very specific artists and what I did was I started reproducing some of these references directly within my process, which maybe I can explain in detail a little better in a little bit. So, out of that subject of departure, I constructed my [00:00:47] and eventually and hopefully ending with my own language, with my own abstraction. I tend to take, before even this show and within my personal escape paintings, I tend to take references that are very, very specific and layer them over the Plexiglas’s that I use in my studio work to paint, and eventually when all of these layers of reference are quite accumulated within the surface of the glass, I start the process of scraping the painting off the glass and because they are oil paintings they tend to get very distorted because the paint at times is very, very wet and then at times very, very dry. So, that combination of the medium is what eventually creates my abstractions on my paintings.
Painting, to me, has always been something very, very personal. It is a very visual medium rather than verbal. I want to say that for this show, the first time I came up with the idea to start studying the idea of the etchings was because I also felt that my process has a big influence in printmaking. As I make my paintings on a surface and then eventually scrape that paint off and it becomes also like a monotype, but a lot more transformed and distorted than a regular monotype process. I did this one painting in my last show in New York and made a simple decision of when I was reproducing the joint/painting that I was creating at that moment, instead of painting the line, I decided to construct the line by erasing it rather than adding paint to it. So, I took a cloth and I started just making these lines and influencing myself with the etching I was looking at, at that time. I made that decision because I knew it would create this interesting perspective or focal view in the painting because by erasing and then eventually adding more of those layers, when I fill that negative space or the empty lines, we are going to reveal the layers behind it.
So, I started exploring it after that painting and that’s what took to me most of these paintings that are here today. This painting specifically was before that, but the reason I brought this painting was I also wanted to create an environment that wasn’t just one type of form. I wanted to create a contrast within the paintings. I want everybody to feel differently when they are standing in front of the piece. This piece, which is [00:03:32], which is the town that I grew up, it came out very unexpected to me. I tend to be more attracted to the part… when I make my paintings, I want to images to distort completely or almost completely. I just like having hints of the references that I use at the beginning of the process, but with this painting it came out in just the first layer, as you see, just with some gestures of my blade, of scraping the paint that became a part of the painting, but the way I responded to it was still that it was a wonderful painting and I liked it and I kept it in my studio. Some other times, I had paintings that I put to the side because I don’t feel that they worked as positively as others.
So, I kept this painting in the studio for a while, and then when we made the decision of bringing it for the show, I was a little bit scared, but together with Michelle actually, we [00:04:31] wonderful decision of adding it to the space, and it just works wonderfully.
This painting, the background reference in this painting was a Picasso etching that I saw and it was a moment, an event, and I mentioned this reference to you, but I’ve got to admit that although I take these big recognisable artworks by very, very well-known artists, the departure is not with the idea of giving an homage to Picasso or anything like this. I take over these elements that belong in art history and are very, they work very… I get very influenced by them and I use them as tools. So, I departed by painting the glass all white and then eventually started making the drawing, again my erasing over the surface, and then the second layer, I’ll speak a little more on how I created this painting, but the second layer, for example, was mainly painting on top of that drawing with these different browns and greys etc. After that painting was dry, I covered it with this red. I make all of these decision, but I only have expectations, I never have a strict knowledge of the paintings that will come out. So, the painting and the process is left to chance hugely and it’s something that I embrace and I’ve been embracing for a long time. That feeling of non-control is very important to me because I like the excitement when creating these paintings, and the process gives me that. It gives me challenges, gives me frustrations, gives me all of these different emotional effects, but I think they fall into the work and end up positive rather than negative. The things that may seem like damage or accidents, they transform into gestures that add to the composition of the abstract work.
After I did this painting I had it in the studio for a while and I came across this image of a butterfly drinking crocodile tears, and when I saw the photo, first of all I didn’t know that that happened in nature, they also drink the tears of turtles, and the contrast between the colour of the butterfly and the texture of the crocodile, also the relationship of beauty and ugly or rough and soft, flying/solid etc. I felt that it fitted the painting. So, I titled it like that. I thought it was going to be a little bit too romantic, but formally I thought it fitted very, very well. Although, my plan eventually is not to expose them [00:07:34] or directly, I would like people to quickly recognise where I am taking these references and inspirations from. So, I am always searching within the figurative beginning moment in the process towards this other abstraction and transform this completely, not just into abstract, but into my own language. That’s why I like when hints of that figuration bleed through some of the paintings, but when it’s a lot I can sometimes feel a little bit uncomfortable with it, but yes, I like the fact that these are very specific paintings, not my paintings, the references, and some of them have very, very strong specific contents and through the process I distort that and question it within myself and the whole vocabulary of abstract painting or painting history in general.
This painting, I don’t know if you see, but colour wise things change. I was talking about this yesterday and earlier also because of the way they feel so different. When I am in the studio, there are a lot of emotions involved and when I am working with one painting and I feel that there is a certain tone in the painting, like becoming a lot greyer or a little darker, eventually I want to disconnect from there, and then I start working on something that hopefully will be a lot brighter or more geometric, or more fluid or more linear etc. I like being around these different expressions and gestures that definitely show the different emotions.
This painting, the first references that I depart with this painting was an etching by Jackson Pollock that I had never seen before, and it was very interesting to see how different it seemed from how we expect or know his work, and I studied it. That’s why you see the scratching here, you see the scratching on the surface. It is not on the surface; it was in the Plexiglas. It was very interesting to translate with different tools that I have made in my studio to scratch all of these elements and make this drawing and eventually I started making these paintings behind after it was dry. Some, again, referencing all the various big artists. In this particular one, I referenced an artist named Stuart Davis and I just thought that the contrast between the works… I had the expectation that it was going to come out really interesting because this was very linear, very drawn, almost [00:10:38] and then the second one was very, very geometric, very colourful, very solid colours. So, when you collapse all of these different gestures in a formal way, I am not doing it necessarily just historical or because this Jackson Pollock and the other one have certain meanings to me, but formally, I chose them formally because I already have a knowledge of the process and an expectation, knowing that hopefully it’s going to work at the end as an abstract painting.
Sometimes you have these impulses and you follow them. You follow them for good or bad, and sometimes they can fail too. Within not just this painting, but other ones, I had a certain feeling that there was a certain flatness to it and I wanted to create a little even more contrast. So, that’s when eventually, one of the nights I was working in the studio, I felt that the painting definitely needed something to push forward and add some little more gestures to it, and that’s why I did these marks on this and a few other ones.
I have always been very self-critical of myself and I feel that I position myself in moments that feel systematic, and I tend not to feel comfortable with that. So, I try to find ways where I can distance myself from that feeling, and the [00:12:06] point, which they are and were very important to me in many different ways, with the previous painting. Eventually I felt that the view was stained on the surface of the painting and they weren’t really entered, which was fine, the work was very sculptural, it was a very bold material to the reality of the painting, but at some point I felt that I wanted the viewer to go a little deeper into what was going on in the painting and add some more content to it. There are other materials than just the process. So, I stepped away from the wrinkles and I started colliding them flat, and I felt like I wanted to work with something a little more like a small version. I noticed that a painting like the one in the back, the big one, doesn’t work the same at a smaller scale than it would at a bigger scale. So, I cannot learn that in the studio. So, I started playing with this format over there, which is not quite small, it is really quite big, but I felt that it was quite intimate still and I have been using it a lot in the studio lately.
The titles are not necessarily specifically related to what is going on in the paintings. It is more of a reaction of something, like the story I explained about the butterfly drinking crocodile tears. They just come to you. Also, sometimes I collect titles and phrases that I come across in books and songs and then eventually things start fitting within each other. As I am working on them I feel like, hey, this has a feeling of fruitful and I title like that, just Fruitful, not too complex. I don’t want the titles to influence the painting.
I found that the day I planned this piece I actually got really, really excited. Again, the departure in terms of the etching I chose for this painting was again etching by Jackson Pollock. I was very impressed with several of his etchings because if you saw them you wouldn’t know it was his work. Then, eventually I made these other paintings behind. One thing that I decided when constructing the work was that when I did the first layer of the painting I let it dry longer than usual. I did that because I know that the more I dried the painting, the less the first layer was going to come out, and the more the second and third and fourth layers were going to reveal the emptiness of the first layer. So, this was a painting that I had an idea where I wanted to balance this very white environment with a colourful… but I wanted it pretty balanced. I was happy because I thought that, as I made the decisions of the painting, it ended up happening how I imagined it, or at least as close as possible. I still feel it has a certain landscape feeling to it because I felt that these felt like a drawing of wind or something like that.
All I did was start with this dark colour and erase it, and then I started painting on the back with these oranges and reds. You can see through these which paintings are in front of each. You can see that the dark was the first one and then when that dried and after I erased the lines, I painted the whole thing orange. After the orange dried, I painted the whole thing red, and when the whole thing dried, I did it black again. So, that’s why all of these reflect there, and also this white. Then, after making this one, I wanted to make it more complex, so I started just adding more fully colourful paintings, rather than just one pure colour.
I took the desk and I covered it with this material that I found, and the chair, instead of being on the skin of paintings, instead of colliding them on the canvas, I started covering the chair with the oil paint skins and just exploring. It ended up being a really, really interesting piece. I showed that painting in a group show at Lehmann Maupin before I was actually on the programme. They did a group show in the summer and it was very heavy, very complicated. I am constantly moving myself within what I do in the studio. It is not like I am always just painting. There is a lot of exploration involved in there. So, I am making ceramics or welding some metal and painting, and then, who knows.”
Born in the Echoes
May 26 – July 2, 2016
For his first Hong Kong gallery exhibition, Puerto Rican artist Angel Otero will present a group of new paintings that bring his unique visual language to the forefront. Dedicated to continuing the tradition of abstraction, Otero is an innovator in the genre. His richly textured abstract paintings engage in a dialogue with art historical themes while grappling with the artist’s own history and sense of self. Through innovative techniques and physically engaging processes, Otero continually experiments with materials, drawing much of his inspiration from the inherent qualities of paint.
Otero begins each painting by reproducing reference images in thick oil paint on a large plate of glass. Once the paint is almost dry, the artist scrapes the ‘oil skin’ from the glass surface, draping and collaging it onto large-scale canvases, obscuring the original painted imagery, and resulting in a wholly new composition. Through years of carefully observing the interactions of the material, the artist has forged an individualistic style, while expanding the traditional genre of abstract painting.
The new oil skin paintings presented in this exhibition mark an expansion of focus for Otero, with the artist referencing mediums beyond painting, mainly woodcutting and etching, and implementing some of these printmaking techniques in his practice. Beginning with a layer of paint on glass, Otero marks his line work into the paint by erasure with a cloth, the negative space ultimately revealing the images. The painting is transformed through the process of its transfer to the canvas; some imagery is revealed more clearly while others are distorted entirely. The artistic references Otero gleans from, mainly abstract and Expressionist artists of the 20th century, are ultimately accumulated into one coherent gestural abstraction with Otero inserting himself more fully into these collaged works—and the art historic confluence they represent—by scraping into, or drawing over the tableau.
Following his exhibition at Lehmann Maupin Hong Kong, Otero will have two solo museum exhibitions in the United States. The artist will be featured in a major survey exhibition at CAM Houston, opening December 2016, as well as a solo exhibition at Dallas Contemporary, scheduled for 2017.
About the artist
Angel Otero (b. 1981, Santurce, Puerto Rico) received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009. Recent exhibitions include Material Discovery, SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah and Hong Kong (2013); and Angel Otero, Contemporary Art Museum, Raleigh, NC (2012); in addition to El Museo del Barrio’s The [S] Files, El Museo’s 6th Biennial (2011); and Queens International 2012: Three Points Make a Triangle, Queens Museum, New York (2012); among others. Otero is the recipient of the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship in the Visual Arts. His work can be found in collections at DePaul University Museum, Chicago; Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas; and the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh. The artist lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.